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Community Antagonism Towards Asylum Seekers in Port Augusta, South Australia

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Abstract

An overtly hostile response to asylum seekers was observed in questionnaire responses provided by residents of Port Augusta, South Australia in April 2002. A social construction approach to identity and representation was used to interrogate this antagonism within its social, cultural, political and geographical contexts. Asylum seekers were constructed as ‘burdensome’, ‘threatening’ and ‘illegal’, and opposition to them was set within the discursive framework of a ‘Self/Other’ binary. Enmity towards asylum seekers was articulated concurrently with overwhelming support for the Federal Government's exclusive and deterrence-oriented asylum policies. However, vehement opposition was expressed regarding the government's decision to construct Baxter Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in close proximity to Port Augusta. Factors contributing to the respondents’ negative perceptions of asylum seekers include xenophobia (specifically Islamophobia), events of geopolitical significance, and problematic government and media representations of asylum seekers. An awareness of these factors is necessary to unpack and, potentially, to destabilise the negative constructions of asylum seekers circulating in contemporary Australian discourses. Their entrenchment in the national consciousness may lead to tangible social implications including fear, friction and ultimately violence between the ‘Self’ and ‘Other’, and this should therefore be countered. Community antagonism also contradicts notions of a culturally tolerant Australia and fosters electoral support for the policies of exclusion and deterrence that undermine Australia's commitment to international human rights frameworks.

ACRONYMS

ABC The Australian Broadcasting Corporation

ABS The Australian Bureau of Statistics

DIMIA Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs

IRPC Immigration Reception and Processing Centre

RCOA Refugee Council of Australia

TPV Temporary Protection Visa

UNHCR The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
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Keywords: Asylum seeker; antagonism; discourse; perception; representation; social construction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of New South Wales, Australia

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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